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A few days ago while on the hunt for some vegan dishes, I stopped at eatingwell.com, my new go-to site for healthy, delicious and novel recipes. A recipe for Zesty Wheat Berry-Black Bean Chili caught my eye. The ingredient list was chock-full of the good stuff and foretold of a hearty, flavorful meal. One ingredient, though, gave me pause – two cups cooked wheat berry. Wheat berry? I’d never come across it before this fruity sounding thing before. So off to Whole Foods I went in search of the wheat berry. The guy in the produce section helpfully walked me to the small silos of a variety of grains and pointed me to the red wheat berry.
By now you’ve probably guessed, right? The wheat berry was not some exotic hybrid fruit-grain from Latin America. It was good old whole wheat grain in all its pristine glory, the very same one I’ve seen all my life growing up in India, in its avatar before it got roasted and ground into wheat flour.
This episode recalled the time years ago when my brother and I decided we would make something out of a cookbook on our own. Firni it was. We sent my mom off to the bedroom to read a book and relax. And then called out to her every couple of minutes for this or that ingredient. At the end of a chaotic hour, what we had on our hands was….ganji! That self-same easily digestible gruel mom made every time one of us got sick. My mom had a good laugh at our expense and now, anytime we tell her we’re making some quaint sounding dish, she tells us to make sure it’s not ganji first.
But back to the wheat berry. I brought home some of the grain along with the other ingredients and made the chili. It was delicious to say the least! The blend of flavors complemented the crunchy bite of the wheat very well. The chili was a complete meal in itself. Most importantly, the friends for whom I made it enjoyed it immensely and were delighted to expand their vegan repertoire by one.
I was left with about two cups of wheat berry. So this morning, craving for something zesty and spicy for breakfast and having tired of the mainstays of Uppittu and avalakki dishes, I decided to make a Sundal (Usli in Kannada). Although Uslis are usually made with legumes, cooked wheat berry lends itself very well to this dish because it maintains its shape even when cooked. And it was everything I hoped for. Made for a fantastic breakfast.
Wheat Berry Usli:
2 tbps oil;
1/2 tsp mustard seeds;
1/2 tsp turmeric;
1/2 tsp urad dal;
1/2 tsp channa dal;
1/2 tsp cumin;
A dash of asafetida;
4 green chillies, slit down the middle;
1 sprig curry leaves;
1 large onion coarsely chopped;
2 cups cooked wheat berry (http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/cooked_wheat_berries.html);
Salt, to taste
Juice of one lemon;
A handful of cilantro, chopped.
Heat the oil in a medium sized pan until shimmering. Add the mustard seeds, urad dal and channa dal. Once the mustard seeds start crackling, add the turmeric, cumin and asafetida. After about 30 seconds add, the curry leaves and green chillies and roast for about a minute. Add the onions and let roast until translucent, stirring frequently. Take care not to burn the onions, lowering the flame if necessary. Add the wheat berries and salt, and stir to blend all the ingredients well. Lower the flame to the low setting, cover and let cook for about five minutes. Turn off the flame and add the lemon juice. Mix well, garnish with cilantro and serve.
The Usli is great even when cold. Serve with a dollop of plain yogurt.
Recipe for Zesty Wheat Berry-Black Bean Chili